German prosecutors have indicted former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and four others on charges of fraud and unfair competition, saying he failed to prevent the manipulation of engine software that let Volkswagen cars cheat on diesel emission tests.
Prosecutors in Braunschweig said Monday that Winterkorn knew about the deceptive software since at least May 25, 2014, despite his public statements he only became aware of the issue shortly before the scandal broke in September 2015.
Winterkorn failed to disclose the illegal manipulation to the responsible authorities in Europe and the US and to customers.
They added that this had resulted in Volkswagen being slapped with much higher fines in Germany and the United States than would have been the case had he acted.
Criminal proceedings against VW over the rigged tests had already resulted in a one billion euro fine in June previous year, marking one of the highest ever punitive payments imposed by German authorities against a company.
They also claim Winterkorn approved a software update, at a cost of €23 million (£19.8 million), that was "useless" but served to "continue obscuring" the use of the defeat device systems.
VW first admitted in September 2015 that it had used illegal software to cheat U.S. emissions tests.
USA prosecutors have already filed criminal charges against Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the automaker's diesel-emissions cheating. He could receive up to 20 years in prison if convicted on those charges, but cannot legally be extradited from Germany to the U.S.
They said Mr Winterkorn should have alerted auto owners and authorities in Europe and the U.S. about the manipulation of diesel emissions tests sooner.
VW said it would not comment because the company was not a party to the proceedings. Doerr said in a statement that prosecutors had provided seven DVDs with 300 file folders of material, including data files that the defense had not seen before, only on April 5 and that requests for a chance to review the files and make a written response had received no response.
The other four suspects were not identified. "I do not expect to be charged", Diess said on the sidelines of the Shanghai auto show.